"The whole people must take upon themselves the education of the whole people and be willing to bear the expenses of it. There should not be a district of one mile square, without a school in it, not founded by a charitable individual, but maintained at the public expense of the people themselves." -- John Adams

"No money shall be drawn from the treasury, for the benefit of any religious or theological institution." -- Indiana Constitution Article 1, Section 6.

"If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilisation, it expects what never was and never will be...nor can they be safe with them without information. Where the press is free and every man able to read, all is safe." – Thomas Jefferson

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Proven track records...

Published in Education Week
09/23/2009

To the editor
Recent Education Week stories highlight troubling contradictions in federal efforts to guide public school reforms. On the one hand, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan demands a "proven" track record for programs seeking grants from his $650 million innovation fund ("Duncan Sets Bar on Fund," Aug. 26, 2009). Yet, on the other, the priorities and requirements spelled out in the Department of Education's school improvement and Race to the Top grant guidelines either have no track record or, worse, have a track record of failure ("Tight Leash Likely on Turnaround Aid," Sept. 2, 2009; Rich Prize, Restrictive Guidelines," Aug. 12, 2009).

Mr. Duncan says his recommendations for improving underperforming schools are based on an analysis of programs working at the local level, but offers anecdotes rather than solid evidence. Meanwhile, readily available independent research, such as that of the Vermont researcher William J. Mathis, casts serious doubt on his nostrums.

Many organizations that have submitted comments in response to the Race to the Top Fund's draft guidelines have noted this lack of evidence. There are widespread concerns that the secretary will retain and even intensify the misuse of standardized tests. For Race to the Top, this means relying on student scores to evaluate teachers, though, once again, there is no evidence this will improve teaching and learning.

If his required reforms are based on solid research, Secretary Duncan needs to share it with the public. In an ongoing fiscal crisis, $3.5 billion in new school improvement aid is an awful lot of money to invest in anything less than proven remedies.

— Lisa Guisbond

Lisa Guisbond is Policy Analyst for National Center for Fair & Open Testing (FairTest) Boston, Mass.

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Kindergarten has changed radically in the past two decades. New research in Los Angeles and New York shows what is happening in today’s full-day kindergartens:
• 2–3 hours per day of literacy and math instruction and testing

• Of that, 20–30 minutes per day of standardized testing and test preparation

• Less than 30 minutes per day—and often no time at all—for play or choice time
These practices may produce higher scores in first and second grade, but at what cost? Long-term studies suggest that the early gains fade away by fourth grade and that by age 10 children in play-based kindergartens excel over others in reading, math, social and emotional learning, creativity, oral expression, industriousness, and imagination.

Developmentally inappropriate practices are putting young children’s health and academic progress at risk. It is time for a change.

Contact: The Alliance for Childhood

Friday, September 25, 2009

Banned Book Week

September 26 through October 3 is Banned Book Week.



Catcher in the Rye . . . Harry Potter . . . Captain Underpants . . .
Every year, there are hundreds of attempts to remove books from schools and libraries. Celebrate YOUR freedom to read and right to choose your book during Banned Books Week.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Teachers MUST speak out.

From Susan Ohanian:

Teachers MUST speak out. They must do it for children, for the preservation of teaching, for democracy itself. And here's a way to make this easier than you might think.

I write this to reach out to teachers who feel trapped in a nightmare of test prep and other Standardisto mandates from which they can't seem to escape.

Longer ago than I want to admit, I was a teacher who felt totally isolated in her classroom. I had a vision of how to teach--from reading books by Jim Herndon, Edward Abbey, Wendell Berry, and a host of others--but I had nobody to talk to about this vision.

Joining NCTE brought me colleagues, which is why, despite my horror at what the leadership chooses to do these days, I try to stay loyal. I know there are thousands of teachers in that organization trying to do the right thing. And I hope that, like me, the organization brings them kindred spirits to sustain them.

Early on in my teaching career I started writing. New York Teacher, the rag published by the AFT, insisted that nobody would read book reviews, but I continued to submit long reviews in the style of New York Review of Books, and then harangue the editor until he agreed to publish them. I didn't even get free review copies of the books.

I received wonderful mail about those reviews, and here's my best story. My physicist husband had arranged for an Einstein celebratory conference in upstate New York, and noted theoretical physicist and Einstein collaborator and biographer Banesh Hoffman was the keynote speaker. When my husband picked Hoffman up at the airport, the first thing Hoffman said was, "You related to the woman who writes those reviews for New York Teacher?

As it happens Hoffman cared a whole lot about public education--in places other than the ivory tower--and had written the classic The Tyranny of Testing (first published in 1962 and still in print). A professor at Queens College, part of the City University of New York, he read book reviews in New York Teacher.

Who could know?

And that's my point here. You have no idea of the power of your voice until you exercise it. As a teacher, your voice has been systematically silenced by a union that pretends to represent you, by professional organizations that decide to collaborate with corporate interests, and by a culture that ignores you.

With the help of EPATA (Educators & Parents Against Test Abuse), born out of a meeting in Fresno, CA in September 2009, Stop National Standards is working to help you find very specific avenues in which you can be heard.

We publish an ACTION page, actions both local and national, that you might join. These actions range from writing a letter to the editor of a newspaper about the Baca Bill to joining in the University of California strike, to silently putting cards in public places.

OK, being a shy person (except in print), I admit that the Say YES card distribution is currently one of my favorite actions. Go have a latte and leave a card. Go to the library, and leave a few cards. Sort your mail at the counter in the post office and leave a card.

You don't need to say or write a word to do this. This morning I went to Staples and picked up my first 1,000 cards. Tomorrow I'm going out and having a latte.

You MUST do something--for the sake of the children, for the preservation of teaching as a profession, for the very fiber of democracy itself, and for the survival of your own soul.

Silence is no longer an option.

Choose an action you can do, and DO it. And please write and tell me about what you're doing.

susano@gmavt.net





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Kindergarten has changed radically in the past two decades. New research in Los Angeles and New York shows what is happening in today’s full-day kindergartens:

• 2–3 hours per day of literacy and math instruction and testing

• Of that, 20–30 minutes per day of standardized testing and test preparation

• Less than 30 minutes per day—and often no time at all—for play or choice time
These practices may produce higher scores in first and second grade, but at what cost? Long-term studies suggest that the early gains fade away by fourth grade and that by age 10 children in play-based kindergartens excel over others in reading, math, social and emotional learning, creativity, oral expression, industriousness, and imagination.


Developmentally inappropriate practices are putting young children’s health and academic progress at risk. It is time for a change.

Contact: The Alliance for Childhood

Friday, September 11, 2009

Obama speech debacle proves Arne Duncan does not know how schools work

by Edward Hayes, Examiner.com

Opening day is one of the three worst days of the school year for a principal. Imagine if you will twelve hundred students who are collectively ambivalent about school, a hundred anxiety-ridden teachers, and if you are in Chicago, twenty of them are rookies; perhaps a dozen school buses driven by nameless people whose only qualification is that they can pass a drug test, and a goofy array of parents, many of whom do not speak your language, all descending on you at one time. That is what the first day of school looks like to a principal. Every possible question from where is the chalk to why isn’t first period basket weaving class covered, is coming your way.

You’ve spent the latter half of the summer preparing individualized student schedules, at least a third of which are wrong, hiring new teachers at the last minute because the ones that left were hired by higher-paying school districts in their last moments; repopulating rooms with desks, computers, and stuff that was removed so that the janitorial crew from GITMO could thoroughly clean them; and registering students new to the neighborhood, some of whom present false paperwork because the school in their community is worse than yours. Oh, by the way, the first home game is tomorrow night and the lights on the football field aren’t working.

This describes an average, ordinary, garden-variety school opening. My personal worst was day one at Roosevelt Elementary in Bellwood. Just as I walked up to unlock the school’s door at the very early hour of 6:30 AM, the bloody water main in the middle of the street burst. It stayed ‘burst’ all day. Roosevelt, since renamed Thurgood Marshall, was totally without running water for sinks or toilets. I was forced to work out a bussing plan to get my K-6 kids to the restroom throughout the day. It was my very first day as a principal of any school.

The last thing I needed then, or any principal needed Tuesday, was a Presidential speech controversy. Can you also imagine how many parent phone calls principals and real superintendents must have fielded over the last week? It wasn’t enough that parents were holding the principal under siege to get privileged scheduling or the best teacher assignments or special intervention with the coach of one of the autumn sports, nooooooo. This year, the principal also had to explain President Obama’s innermost intentions and covert motivations. There must have been parents on both sides of the issue, which means the poor slob principal likely made a whole new portfolio of enemies as he or she was caught in the middle of the needless political controversy.

It was no bed of roses for teachers either. Establishing class control is an essential day-one task; so is presenting the syllabus or setting an academic tone. How do you do that with a presidential address breaking into your private time with new children and dominating the landscape? Furthermore, given the complete variation in school scheduling across the nation, did Obama’s speech come at the beginning, end, middle, or during normal passing times? Did it interfere with the lunch schedule and force some teachers to hold kids and lose lunch time or prep period time contrary to union contract? Were classrooms all completely set up with televisions on the very first day of school? I betcha the GITMO crew appreciated that added requirement. If televsions weren't universally available, that translates to a school-wide assembly of hundreds of youngsters under the supervision of teachers who cannot yet identify them. Nice.

Students love drama. The clever and theatrical ones certainly used the occasion to generate a little late summer tension and distract the teacher from more mundane tasks. And how many of our educators were able to keep their personal politics from showing in the glare of this foolishness? If you had an opinion one way or another, your bias showed, and since Obama is more of a black guy than any other description, did old-fashioned racism get injected into places where it wasn’t before all of this transpired?

Educationally, this was a debacle. National Nice Guy and U.S. Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, is, at the lowest level of interpretation, Obama’s education advisor. Duncan was wrong and ‘misspoke’ in declaring Obama’s speech as unprecedented because George Bush 41 and Ronald Reagan also addressed school children. Duncan was inept in suggesting a Pyongyang- style lesson plan inextricable linked to the president’s person instead of the nation’s welfare. When I was in high school, JFK challenged us to ask what we could do for our country, not what we could do for him. Duncan was disingenuously crude in changing the DOE website lesson plan in the vain hope that no one would notice, and then Arne looked like an Arne Duncan in telling the country that we were silly to object to the speech. If he truly believed that, why did he change the lesson plan after it began to take fire?

Worst of all, Duncan made the first day of school across the nation for nearly 100,000 public schools much more difficult than it had to be for the very people he is supposed to be helping: educators, students, and parents. Why? Because this man does not have any idea of how schools work. He has never taught a public school classroom, and he surely has not taken on the gargantuan task of running a school. Yet there are those of you out there completely willing to believe that he reformed Chicago Public Schools. Clearly he failed to provide the President with simple, useful advice in the area of his alleged expertise. Sure give a speech Barack, if you must, but not on the first day of school.

Oh, the other two bad days for a principal. The last day of school, and the day you get fired so the district can establish an Arne Duncan charter school. Madness.
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Kindergarten has changed radically in the past two decades. New research in Los Angeles and New York shows what is happening in today’s full-day kindergartens:

• 2–3 hours per day of literacy and math instruction and testing

• Of that, 20–30 minutes per day of standardized testing and test preparation

• Less than 30 minutes per day—and often no time at all—for play or choice time
These practices may produce higher scores in first and second grade, but at what cost? Long-term studies suggest that the early gains fade away by fourth grade and that by age 10 children in play-based kindergartens excel over others in reading, math, social and emotional learning, creativity, oral expression, industriousness, and imagination.


Developmentally inappropriate practices are putting young children’s health and academic progress at risk. It is time for a change.

Contact: The Alliance for Childhood

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Duncan's Background and Duncan's Plans

And if you're not convinced that the issue is one of poverty, instead of schools, check out this entry by Jim Horn over at Schools Matter. While the rightwing nut jobs think Obama is trying to subvert our children with his speech on September 8, he spouts the business view of education and ignores the real effect of poverty on learning.

Duncan's Background and Duncan's Plans

by Stephen Krashen

Sent to Time Magazine, September 5, 2009

What I learned from "Can Arne Duncan (And $5 Billion) Fix America's Schools?" (Sept. 14) is that Secretary of Education Duncan's only experience in education is helping out in his mother's after-school tutoring program, which was somehow enough to get him an administrative position with Chicago public schools.

I also learned that when he was head of Chicago public schools, he tried a number of odd schemes, all known to be ineffective, to improve performance (e.g. charter schools, bribing students, merit pay, closing down schools). These schemes resulted in "modest gains," a description that is much too generous, according to an article in USA Today on July 12.

Duncan's plan now is to use these discredited approaches nationwide, and expand the Bush administration's testing program, also shown repeatedly to be ineffective.

All this is because he thinks American schools are "dysfunctional," despite analyses that show that the problem is poverty, not the quality of our schools: American students who do not live in poverty do very well on international tests when compared to students in other countries.

In her book, "Caught in the Middle: Nonstandard Kids Caught in a Killing Curriculum," published in 2001, Susan Ohanian, an experienced and award-winning educator who has actually taught in public schools, pointed out that:
"The pattern of reform … has spread across the nation: Bring in someone who has never been involved in public education; proclaim that local administrators and teachers are lazy and stupid; use massive testing to force schools into curriculum compliance" (page x).
Since this passage was written, this pattern of reform has clearly spread to the highest levels.

Stephen Krashen

http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1920299,00.html
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Kindergarten has changed radically in the past two decades. New research in Los Angeles and New York shows what is happening in today’s full-day kindergartens:
• 2–3 hours per day of literacy and math instruction and testing

• Of that, 20–30 minutes per day of standardized testing and test preparation

• Less than 30 minutes per day—and often no time at all—for play or choice time
These practices may produce higher scores in first and second grade, but at what cost? Long-term studies suggest that the early gains fade away by fourth grade and that by age 10 children in play-based kindergartens excel over others in reading, math, social and emotional learning, creativity, oral expression, industriousness, and imagination.

Developmentally inappropriate practices are putting young children’s health and academic progress at risk. It is time for a change.

Contact: The Alliance for Childhood